About color analyzers

Today a look at coloranalyzers and a review of the ColorMunki from X-rite.

Of course you all know that I photograph by now….
But what some of you might or might not know is that I also had a career (and still have) before my photography really took off. Now let’s look back a long time….
During my childhood I was infected not only with the photography virus but also with the “movie” virus, some would call it the movie buff virus. In short it means I love watching movies, but hey… who doesn’t.


Now somehow I was never really happy with how colors looked on TV sets so I was always playing with the remote control to change settings, and due to my drive to see better images I was of course also bitten by the so called “upgrade virus” meaning I was one of the first to adopt the Laserdisc format as soon as it was released by Philips in the Netherlands. My love for Home Theater and photography always went hand in hand and actually influenced each other a lot, also when I look at my work now I can still see a lot of influence I get from the movies I watch.


While growing up my career did went another direction, after a small sidestep with a recording studio I started a computer company called ITC which was specialized in building custom PC’s (and later added Apple) for video editing and photography. In the 90’s we added ITC Home Theater to the line up a part of the company that was totally aimed to Home Theater. However as you probably know me, it was not a matter of just delivering boxes, I wanted to add something special, so in 2001 I visited the USA for the first time to get my ISF certification (Imaging Science Foundation), after this I totally emerged myself in calibrations for TV sets, projectors and video walls, a very specialized part of the Home Theater market, and because I was actually one of the only ones in the Netherlands doing it we very quickly build our name and started working very closely together with companies like Epson, Sony etc. testing their projectors (often way before they were released). Because I can schedule my own time (and am not afraid to clock many hours :D) this is something I still do next to my photography job and I still love it, working with new techniques like projectors is still something I find more than satisfying.


When doing professional calibrations you very quickly learn that a coloranalyzer is not just a coloranalyzer.
For example:
A lot of people will buy a cheap coloranalyzer for their laptop/monitor and think they have the perfect image after calibration, and I have to be honest, they do have a much better image than they had before, however it’s not perfect. And the reason for this is actually simple to explain, but also complicated so let me boil it down for you in what we call in the Netherlands “Jip and Janneke language”, or in otherwords very simplified.


When you use a cheap coloranalyzer for your calibration this is an analyzer based on filters, often 7 different filters for different colors.
Now that seems logical because when we look at the primary and seconday colors we have Red, Green, Blue as primaries and Cyan, Magenta, Yellow as secondaires. However in reality there are a few problems with this technique.


First of all these filters decade over time, meaning after 1-2 months there already is a VERY slight decay, meaning they are not 100% accurate anymore, and in my opinion the filterbased analyzers should be replaced every 1-2 years if you want to keep accurate results… but this is the second problem, the filter based meters are often not 100% accurate when we look at modern displays or problem displays. In professional calibration software this is often “solved” by using so called profiles. These profiles are build with high-end spectrometers and than “translated” back into the “domain” of the filter based meters (new), this means that if you for example meter a 30IRE field (dark gray) and a 80IRE field (almost white) you will get a different result from a filter based meter if you don’t select it should meter 30IRE or 80IRE, in most professional calibration software this is however clearly stated of course and professional calibrators know this behavior. However believe it or not, a lot of (even sold as professional software) doesn’t have this option.

Lacie software, monitor own calibration software.

But wait.. there is more.
Although most displays use Red, Green and Blue as their display (some have added Yellow but to be honest I’m not a fan of these) not all displays are the same, a plasma display is totally different from a CRT or LCD with a white or RGB led, and of course Oled and laser are also changing the “gameplan”. But like with the dark and lighter patches filterbased analyzers also have a solution for this, these so called profiles have to be selected manually (the other selection is often done automatically when you connect your meter), and to be honest this works very well when you use the more advanced meters. For my ISF calibrations I always use a high end spectrometer and the C6 calibrater (which is a highly tuned X-rite) that is replaced every year.


Now I hear you ask, “but how does this translate to photography…. and the review”
Well that’s actually easy, but you needed this information first.
Now that you know that a filter based analyzer is using profiles to make it work for different display you will probably also understand why a lot of people online are sometimes complaining that they have trouble calibrating a 2-3 display setup with the “normal” analyzers, or that iMacs or MacBooks are behaving erratic with the calibration. As you can probably now figure out this has to do with the fact that a filter based meter, to make accurate calibrations, needs a profile of the monitor/projector it’s going to calibrate…. and yes those are often not available meaning that filter based meters will do their best and get you in the ballpark, but it’s never actually a home run…. unless you buy a monitor like a Lacie/Eizo etc. that has a specialized piece of software with color analyzer, and you will by now understand why …. yep these analyzers and monitors are working “together” meaning the software you use is aimed to THAT monitor and THAT analyzer. If you have a combination like that you can check this very quickly by doing a calibration with the delivered software and analyzer and after that repeat the same calibration with standalone software and analyzer, you will probably be stunned by the difference.


“But Frank is there a solution, because this scares the heck out of me ?”
Well first of all, don’t be afraid.
As mentioned before I’m an incredibly nitpicker, so for the majority of the people you will do just fine with the analyzers you own.
But if, as me, you want certainty that your calibration is as accurate as you can have you need something else… a spectrometer.


Now the main difference between a filter based and spectrometer analyzer is that the spectrometer doesn’t have a limitation to the range it can meter, it meters the complete spectrum. In other words if you use a filter based meter on a display where for example green is not in the location it should be it could be that the calibration goes wrong because the amount of green is metered incorrectly, with a spectrometer this is a non issue because it doesn’t really meter for green, but it meters for a complete spectrum and the software will “filter” out what’s going on with the colors. The main difference between spectrometers is in the resolution it meters, for photography this is not a real issue, but when you calibrate newer displays like Oled, Laser, Plasma with high refresh rates etc. this is getting more and more important. All this means that it’s much easier to get two totally different displays looking similar… and please read this last sentence twice, I really said SIMILAR. Some people will think that when you calibrate ALL displays will look the same, but this is something I have to be honest in, that’s impossible, and that’s a good thing because if this was true there would be no need to buy a better monitor, some displays will still have a problem with for example blue, or yellow and will always be weaker in those colors, the whole calibration process is “only” aimed at getting a nice and as neutral as possible gray scale, correct gamma and colors as close to the standard as possible. But in short if you calibrate a shitty monitor it will look less shitty but it’s still a shitty monitor (but a bit or more accurate).


Now I also have to be honest with the following… a spectrometer is NOT cheap.
However, most high-end devices are not cheap, but it’s doable (more than).
The professional analyzer we use for our calibrations was app 7000.00 US when we bought it, but don’t quit reading yet, luckily (thanks the guys from X-rite) you don’t have to pay that much. X-rite has a great color analyzer called the ColorMunki that is in fact a spectrometer and works like a charm for all your calibrations, and when I say all…. well I really mean all.


With for example the ColorMunki Photo you can not only calibrate your monitor but also your projector, printer and more….

ColorMunki Photo
Now let’s start with simply what X-rite says about their product, because to be honest, I can’t say it better 😀


The X-Rite ColorMunki Device

  • All-in-One spectrophotometer is the only device required to profile monitors, projectors and printers and measure colors.
  • A white calibration tile is integrated, so there’s nothing to lose or match up to your device.
  • A protective bag doubles as an integrated monitor holder – and it all fits in the palm of your hand.

Powerful, Self-Guided Software

  • Quick, easy self-guided interface offers a fast path to high quality custom monitor, projector and printer profiles
  • Create custom camera profiles with the included X-Rite ColorChecker Camera Calibration software and target, controlling your color right from capture
  • Easy and Advanced Monitor Profiling Modes: Easy mode’s predetermined selections are perfect for photographers who are looking for quick and easy profiling. Choose Advanced if you want more control over whitepoint, contrast, brightness or ambient measurements.
  • Photo ColorPicker intuitive interface for easiest color palette building and verification
  • DigitalPouch offers ViewSafe™ capabilities ensuring color confidence when sharing images with your client

Monitor and Projector Profiling

  • Calibrate and profile all of your LCD, CRT and laptop monitors so you know the colors you see on screen are the same colors you’ll see in print.
  • Automatic DDC recognition will quickly determine if your monitor is compliant and if so, perform all advanced display calibrations automatically, delivering a high quality profile with no user intervention.
  • Advanced mode offers the ability to optimize your display luminance, based on ambient light or any value you specify.
  • Ambient light measurement and resulting optimum white luminance values provided; target and actual measured luminance values are provided when adjusting display luminance
  • Automated contrast clipping test for an even easier display contrast and brightness optimization workflow.
  • Video LUT adjustments to pinpoint display target luminance value, ensuring more accurate results
  • Ability to create custom display profile names or accept default name before saving and applying profile
  • ColorMunki technology gives you fast and accurate projector profiles so you can show your images on the big screen to clients, family and friends with color confidence!
  • Before and after visualization and calibration reminder prompts keep everything in check.

RGB and CMYK Printer Profiling

  • No need to read individual color patches – ColorMunki’s superfast scanning can rapidly measure test charts in less than one minute!
  • Simply scan one 50-patch test chart, and ColorMunki will learn how your printer behaves with these colors and dynamically generate a second chart of 50 patches.  Then print and scan this second chart of 50 patches and your profile is perfected!
  • ColorMunki is so smart it even has the ability to optimize your profile based on images for specific colors, black & white, flesh tones, etc.

Camera Profiling

  • X-Rite ColorChecker Camera Calibration software includes both a desktop application and an Adobe® Lightroom® Plug-In for creating custom DNG profiles
  • Included ColorChecker Classic Target [mini], 24 patch industry standard color reference, is used for creating camera profiles and evaluating specific colors

Create with Power

  • Automatically extract colors from any image in your library or go directly into the image and drag any color you can see to create a custom color palette. ColorMunki Photo also lets you grab color from any surface with the easy spot color measurement function.
  • With ColorMunki’s new PrintSafe™ checking capabilities, you can preview your color palettes under different lighting sources or evaluate printing processes for out of gamut colors before you go to production.
  • When you are ready to use your custom palette, synchronize or import into any of your favorite photo and design applications.

Communicate Effortlessly

  • Share your masterpieces quickly and easily with DigitalPouch, a self-executable application that allows for color managed sharing and viewing of your images.
  • Simply drag and drop the images you want to transport into the pouch, “zip” it up and send.
  • The receiver doesn’t need to own or install any special software. They simply doubleclick on the DigitalPouch file and they’ll be able to view the images with your embedded profiles in a fully automatic and color managed viewing application.   DigitalPouch files are even completely cross platform independent so you can send the same file to Windows or Macintosh users and the color results will match.
  • DigitalPouch also checks the recipients monitor for an up-to-date display profile and indicates if it’a ViewSafe™ or color accurate environment.  This provides you and your customer complete confindence that the color integrity of the images is being preserved when viewed by all.

Interactive Training At Your Fingertips

Included Interactive Training modules offer user driven, easy-to-follow instructions for:

  • Calibrating and Printing with Ease: display-to-print matching capabilities: LCD & laptop calibration, projector profiling, and printer profiling
  • Creating with Power: capturing colors from virtually anywhere, enhancing editing creativity, and saving time and production materials with PrintSafe™ color previews
  • Communicating Effortlessly: with DigitalPouch™, a self-executable application that checks for ViewSafe™ conditions on the receiver side to ensure confident image sharing with anyone
  • Covering Color Basics: deepen your understanding of color basics and ideal viewing environments; includes a comprehensive color glossary


As you can see this is a nice little analyzer (understatement).
In reality it’s however much more.
When you are in high-end photography it’s very important that you deliver your work to your clients without any problems in color or consistency. Meaning you need something that will calibrate your whole workflow from camera to print. Well… this is why I love X-rite so much.


Camera calibration
For this X-rite delivers us the Colorchecker passport, a great tool for getting accurate colors in every situation.
And with the super easy Lightroom plugin there is actually no excuses anymore why not to calibrate your camera.

Now when you’re getting the colors right out of the camera it’s time for the monitor of course, and this is where the ColorMunki Photo comes into play. As with all spectrometers you have to do a so called “darkreading” which means the device actually “calibrates” itself and adjusts itself and makes sure your calibration is as accurate as it can be. After this (takes a few seconds) you can place the ColorMunki in front of the display and start the calibration process.


I always select :
Lightoutput : 130Cdm
Gamma : 2.2
Colortemp : D6500


This whole process takes a few minutes and you’re done and you can see the before and after.
This is a very nice feature because somehow a lot of people have trouble seeing the difference before and after without this feature, and this is actually easy to explain, our eyes are VERY sophisticated but also very easy to fool us. For example take a white piece of paper and look at this under candlelight, tungsten, daylight and for example fluorescent light, it all looks white right ?


Well yes of course, because our brain knows this is white and “adjusts” our “internal colorbalance”.
Now do the same thing but shoot the piece of paper all with the setting daylight on your camera and you will very quickly see that there a huge differences in the color, now this was easy, but with monitors it isn’t. Our eyes are easily fooled by looking a white. For example a white patch with a colortemp of 9000 will look “better” than a patch with the correct D6500 colortemp. So when you have two monitors next to each other that both show a white patch you will probably go for the monitor that has too much blue (making it higher in colortemp) and select that one as correct, but when you look at it you will probably want to add even more blue, because white will become even whiter…. now when you go to the correct D6500 setting the white will look incredibly reddish, but trust me… leave the room for a few minutes, walk outside, go to the restroom, read the new Light! magazine on your ipad and go back, now when you look at your screen it will all look fine….


Knowing this makes it very clear that you will HAVE to be able to trust your color analyzer, because your eyes cannot be trusted.
With a spectrometer you will get this confirmation not only by seeing the before and after but also due to the nature of the analyzer you just know it will get the best out of your monitor, I always give the example that if you load the wrong color profile in your printer, the prints will turn out wrong, sometimes this is subtle and maybe not noticeable, sometimes it’s very clear… and this is how the filter based analyzers work, if you “somehow” select the wrong profile the calibration will look wrong, sometimes however you will not notice it because your eyes will adjust for the difference and tell you it’s right. This is why I’m a huge advocate for using the spectrometers.

Now that we have the monitor right we go to the printer.
And this is also where you can use the ColorMunki Photo. By printing a testsheet and using the software you can “very quickly” create a custom profile for your printer AND paper. And again this one is vital. You really have to do the profile on the paper you are going to use when printing, and of course with the inkt you use. For most printers you will have to repeat this about once every 2-3 months (depending on the amount you print).


ColorMunki photo my opinion
It’s no secret you need to calibrate your workflow, X-rite delivers a great line of products that are more than affordable.
The ColorMunki is the spectrometer I would really advise you to look into, do take note that not all ColorMunki products are spectrometers, so don’t buy the cheapest one only to find out later (if ever) you actually bought a filter based meter.


The ColorMunki is very flexible, you can calibrate your monitor, your printer and use it to get accurate color readings from almost everything and use these in design software for example. The device itself is build like a rock and is delivered by a smart case that will make hanging it from the monitor a breeze. The turn dial is a bit getting used to and especially at first it happens a lot that by accident you press the read button, I would have liked that button to be placed somewhere away from the wheel. First time users will have to get used to the darkreadings, but PLEASE never forget these.


The results are great.
I use 3 monitors in my studio, one is ARGB and this one can be calibrated pretty accurate with a filter based meter, however my “email” monitor is an old Ilyama and that one never will got accurate with a filterbased meter, the third one is a large 40″ Samsung LCD TV that is used to show the students/model/clients the images coming in, and also that one is very hard to calibrate with a filterbased meter with the computer/mac based software. When I use the same analyzer on my ISF software the Samsung is easily calibrated (with the correct profile) and that difference is HUGE.


While testing the ColorMunki I got all three monitors looking the same in the whites without taking any double readings, it was literally a matter of click and done. Now one would say.. “well I only have one” but that’s not the point, the fact that all three monitors look different when calibrating with the same software on a filterbased analyzer shows my point that to get accurate results you really have to look into the spectrometer based meters and the ColorMunki and the much more expensive Eye1Pro (which I used many years) are without a doubt the best on the market in this price point. If you don’t have a 3 monitor setup and are using a filterbased meter you will probably never know that something is wrong, when you have the monitors next to each other it starts to show up.


Again, and I really want to make this clear, I’m not saying that a filter based meter is bad, inaccurate or sucks… I do want to point out that there are some things you really have to consider when using one, and if you want better results without any doubt go for something like the ColorMunki, you will love it.


For the Dutch people you can order the ColorMunki from our webstore or CameraNu.nl
For international customers make sure to check out B&H, direct link 
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Tomorrow some FAQ about calibration…..